How to reduce your cholesterol naturally
Many people, of all ages, can be advised by their doctor to “lower their cholesterol” to prevent taking medication. It can come as a shock when you first hear these words, and mistakenly many people will leave the doctor’s office and cut fats out of their diet completely in the hope that they will reduce their cholesterol. My aim in today’s blog is to outline what cholesterol means and how it can reach dangerous levels. I will go through lifestyle changes that can help bring your cholesterol back to normal levels and keep them there whilst keeping you healthy!
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by our liver and believe it or not it is vital for our survival. It plays an important role on how cells work and is also needed to make Vitamin D, some hormones and bile for digestion. However, it is a problem when the level of cholesterol circulating in blood rises to high levels thereby threatening our health. Having too much cholesterol can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart and arterial disease.
LDL and HDL
Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins. Proteins carrying cholesterol are called lipoproteins. The two main types of lipoprotein are:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it is either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product; for this reason, HDL is referred to as "good cholesterol", and higher levels are better.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – carries cholesterol to the cells that need it, but if there is too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, leading to disease of the arteries; for this reason, LDL is known as "bad cholesterol".
What causes high cholesterol?
There are a number of factors that can directly increase your cholesterol levels and these include:
- Smoking – A chemical found in cigarettes called acrolein stops HDL transporting cholesterol from fatty deposits to the liver, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Unhealthy diet – Eating foods that contain high levels of saturated fats such as cream, processed meat, pasties and cakes, butter, lard, ghee and the list can go on.
- Alcohol – Alcohol can have a good effect on your cholesterol if you drink within the recommended limits, however, if you exceed the recommended allowance of alcohol on a regular basis, it can contribute to the build-up of cholesterol
There is also a number of factors that can predispose you to hypercholesterolaemia. These include:
- Suffering from diabetes
- Suffering from high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Having inherited familial hypercholesterolemia
How to lower your cholesterol levels
Cutting out all fats from you diet to lower your cholesterol is a very bad idea because not all fats are dangerous and in fact some fats can help your LDL and increase your HDL. It is important to keep your diet healthy, balanced and low in saturated fats. A balanced healthy diet means having your five fruit/vegetables a day and eating a variety of foods, including fats. The Mediterranean diet is a great way to start.
Foods that increase bad cholesterol
- Hard margarines
- Lard, dripping and goose fat
- Fatty meat and meat products such as sausages
- Full fat cheese, milk, cream and yogurt
- Coconut and palm oils and coconut cream
Foods that help lower bad cholesterol
- Oat bran
- Oat breakfast cereals
- Bread made with 50% oat flour or oat bran
- Pearl barley
- Baked beans
- Adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, edamame beans, kidney beans, lima beans, mung beans, navy beans, pinto beans, split peas and white beans
- Red lentils, green lentils
- Vegetables rich in soluble fibre such as okra, aubergine, citrus fruits, turnip, sweet potato and mango
- Unsalted soya nuts (also called roasted edamame beans)
- Soya alternative to milk
- Soya alternative to yoghurt
- Soya mince/chunks
- Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, cashews and peanuts (always unsalted)
Nuts, avocadoes and fish have high fat content, however, these fats help increase your HDL and lower your LDL.Try swap food containing saturated fat for fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals. This will also help prevent high cholesterol returning.
Smoking can make a big difference in helping you achieve your goals, not just for hypercholesterolemia but also for a healthier life in general. For more information on smoking, you can read our blog “the journey of tobacco” or speak to one of our pharmacists.
Do not underestimate the power of exercise and by exercise, we don’t mean heavy weight lifting or boxing. Regular exercise such as walking, cycling or strength exercises for 30 mins a day, five days a week can have a significant positive impact on your health. It will not only contribute to weight loss but will help in lowering your cholesterol and keep your blood pressure at bay.